Monday, December 26, 2011

The Obama Administration Needs to Face Facts about Public Education and Public Safety

Vice President Biden made headlines a few weeks ago when he accused Republicans of making our streets less safe. He also suggested that our children would be more likely to receive an inferior education unless President Obama's proposed American Jobs Act was enacted into legislation.

Supporting Biden's comments, President Obama said that unsupportive Republicans should have to explain to voters why more local teachers wouldn't be hired if Republicans refused to enact the president's proposed legislation.

Although most voters undoubtedly recognized Biden's and Obama's crass political populist posturing for what it was, it's time to review a few salient facts.

In other words, just what has our taxpayer money been buying in terms of educational results over the past several decades? It's not a pretty picture.

If we don't face facts, these fear mongering and irresponsible politicians will continue to assume that the American people are ignorant. In turn the pols will say what they please and believe that gullible and uninformed American voters will continue to vote for them.

Put another way, the pols of both parties often take the American voting public for granted. As a result, they tend to treat us like little children who have no clue about what's what.

So let's now consider some pertinent facts in lieu of sound bites and platitudes.

Joe Biden and the Myth of Local Government Layoffs corrects the Obama administration's attempt to bamboozle the people once again.

To put things in better perspective, consider a few relevant facts about per student public education spending, academic results and local staff productivity over the past several decades:

"Take local education workers. Hiring has far outpaced the growth in student enrollment, driving down the number of students per teacher in American public schools to 15.6 in 2010 from 26.9 in 1955, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Robust hiring has continued even during periods of enrollment declines, including from 1971 through 1984, when the number of public-school students fell virtually every year, declining in total by 15%, while the ranks of teachers grew by 7%. . . .

Local districts have also bulked up on other workers—from instructional aides to administrative personnel to social workers and counselors. In 1955, teachers constituted about 65% of local education workers; today, despite years of rapid gains in teacher ranks, they amount to only about 40% of the eight million local education workers.

Per-pupil spending in public schools has grown to $10,500 today from $2,831 (in 2010 dollars) in 1961, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Has the spending paid off? Mean scores on the SAT's reading test are down 7% since 1966, while reading scores for 17-year-olds on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, administered since 1971, are flat over that time."

Based on the foregoing facts, some troubling conclusions about today's public education are the following: while students per teacher have been reduced by almost 50% since 1955 and student enrollment continues to decline, teacher staffing has grown and non-teaching staff has increased dramatically. Much more spending for much worse results, in other words.

Summing up the past half century, spending per pupil has more than tripled in real dollars while student achievement has not improved. We continue to spend lots and lots of money and things continue to get worse and worse.

So the Obama's proposed solution is to spend even more? I don't think that's the answer. Not at all.

On the other hand, public safety spending is a better story than is spending on public education. A much better story, in fact.

In reality, spending for public safety has brought big improvements over the years. In brief here's that happy story:

"America has also made a big investment in public safety, and there the facts suggest the spending has paid off. They also suggest we need hardly fear unprecedented spikes in crime of the sort the vice president warned about.

Starting in the early 1990s, when America's crime rate peaked at 758 violent crimes per 100,000 people, police departments started hiring rapidly. From 1992 through 2008, according to the Department of Justice's Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies, the ranks of state and local cops and other law-enforcement personnel soared by one-third, to more than 1.1 million. That growth far outpaced the country's population increase in the period, driving up the percentage of law-enforcement personnel relative to the general population by 12%.

Results? Violent crime is down by 47% since 1992. The property-crime rate has fallen by 75%. To be sure, other factors were at work besides body count, including better policing strategies and the waning of the 1980s crack epidemic."

The comparison between public education and public safety spending is indeed stark and telling.

Spending on public safety has been a great investment. It has been money well spent. Worker productivity has increased substantially, and taxpayers have received considerable value for money spent in the area of public safety.

But that's not even close to what happened with the tons of money spent on public education. As we've spent more and more money, we've not received the benefits. Neither the students nor the taxpayers.

So President Obama and Vice President Biden are speaking with false tongues about the need for more taxpayer funding to improve public education and keep streets safe. Chalk it up to American politics. Isn't that sick?

Now we'll summarize.

We're doing well in the area of public safety. The money invested has brought about strong results.

We're failing big time when spending recklessly on public education. In fact, we probably would be much better off if we spent much less. To paraphrase President Clinton's famous electoral admonition about the economy in 1992, it very much looks to me like "It's the public education system, Stupid." And not that there aren't enough teachers and administrators in the system.

So until we gather the courage to change the public education system, let's stop spending all that ill spent money to achieve nothing other than more government deficits and greater debt levels.

At the very least, let's have an adult conversation about what's needed. An educated citizenry isn't a consistent output of our public schools today. That doesn't augur well for a self governing society.

Thanks. Bob.

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